Dairmaid MacCulloch's "A History of Christianity" – The TV series

Just arrived today: Prof. MacCulloch’s 6 part BBC series “A History of Christianity” on DVD from Amazon. The kids and I watched the first episode this evening. Maddy fell asleep, but Mia was intent on finding out, in the contest between Nestorius and Cyril, “which was the bad guy and which was the good guy?”

I know from bitter experience how difficult it is to tell the story of the history of Christianity in six one-hour sessions. You can’t do it. You have to edit all over the place in the hope of conveying more than just a list of dates and names and gives at least a true-to-life sketch for the whole 20 century history. There was never any way that MacCulloch was going to be able to include even a fraction of the material in his 1250 page masterpiece. For a start, he cuts out the “first thousand years” of his “three thousand year” history (the Greek/Roman and Jewish background) and jumps straight to the most characteristic feature of his book, the story of the eastern Church.

Too often the visual accompaniment to his text has nothing to do really with what he is talking about. Scenes of modern day Syria and Constantinople and Edessa are really not much help to visualising these 1st-3rd Century localities – not the least because the architecture is now decidely Islamic rather than Christian. But the one really good bit was the visit to the Chinese Buddhist Pagoda which was a 7th Century Christian (probably Nestorian) monastry. Pity the locals kicked up a stink about letting the cameras inside.

And ultimately the whole thing is a little short on detail. I reckon this is one case where it helps to have read the book before hand. I am looking forward to the next five episodes. Hopefully I can encourage the children to keep watching it too.

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